I hadn’t driven a car in five months, not since we had traded ours in for bicycles and began our epic journey around Europe, Western Asia and North Africa with our four children. With trepidation I climbed behind the wheel of the little green Skoda that our friends lent us to visit some of the most impressive caves and the biggest abyss in the Czech Republic. Much to my chagrin the car was a standard, but since my husband lost his driver’s license in Delft, Netherlands, I was now the designated driver. “Don’t worry!” our hostess hollered from the deck, “It’s like riding a bicycle!” Very funny, I thought.
The Punkva Caves are hidden treasures in the countryside north of Brno, the Republic’s second largest city. Discovered in 1909 and 1914 the caves extend back into the hills, following the path of an underground river. The stalactite and stalagmite formations were the most amazing we’d ever seen. The mineral deposits that accumulated over centuries had been remarkably well preserved. The tour was given in Czech, but there were translated English recordings available at no extra charge.
The first 650 meters of the cave was dry. The floors had been leveled out with concrete to make the walking surface smooth and passable to even the youngest visitors. The lighted pathways move from room to room through this underground wonderland, reminding visitors that there is more to the earth than what meets the eye from the surface.
As we entered the boats in the second cavern I had to fight the urge to hand two pennies to the boatman for passage on the River Styx. The cavern was dark, the ceiling was low, and the voice of the boatman was haunting. He could easily have narrated any Halloween boat ride in a chilling fashion, not to mention the fact that we found the Czech language completely incomprehensible and the combination was perfectly frightening.